China accuses Vietnam of illegal fishing, dismisses compensation claim

Published on
March 29, 2019

China has dismissed a request from the Vietnamese government for USD 130,000 (EUR 116,000) compensation for the sinking of a Vietnamese trawler in disputed waters of the South China Sea, claiming instead that the vessel was guilty of “illegal fishing” and was sunk before a Chinese vessel reached the scene. 

The Vietnam Fisheries Association, a state sponsored body, wants USD 130,000 paid to the owners of a trawler sunk at the weekend, but in a regular media briefing this week, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Yu Shuang described Vietnam’s claims as “fabricated.” 

A note from the Vietnamese Foreign Ministry describes the ramming of a trawler by a “Chinese vessel numbered 44101” off the Hoang Sa Archipelago, commonly known as the Paracel Islands. Water cannon was used by the Chinese, who drove the vessel onto a reef and sunk it, with five fishermen on board rescued by another Vietnamese fishing boat, according to the Vietnamese Foreign Ministry. 

While China is Vietnam’s top trading partner, relations between China and its southern neighbor continue to be battered by China’s heavy-handed enforcement of claims of ownership over a large swathe of the South China Sea. Relations have long been testy since China seized the Paracel Islands from South Vietnam by force in 1974, and since it recently built a military base there that includes a runway capable of handling military aircraft.

Vietnam also disputes China’s hold on part of the Spratly Islands, which it claims China seized by force in 1988. China’s claim to the Scarborough Shoal, which is also claimed by the Philippines, caused outrage amongst Filipino fishing firms, an uproar China sought to defuse by offering aquaculture training.

Vietnam’s government has long claimed China’s interest in the South China Sea – which it defends on the grounds of historical claims – is rooted in a grab for undersea energy reserves. In 2014, China parked an oil rig, the Haiyang Shiyou 981, in waters off the Paracels. 

While Chinese tourist throng Vietnamese cities, the government in Hanoi has engaged the U.S. Navy to perform freedom of navigation exercises through the disputed waters in an effort to negate Chinese claims to exclusive control over the waters. 

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